Driver Impairment Motorcycle Accident Lawyer in Boston
Impaired driving represents an immediate and serious threat to motorcyclists in Boston. Motorcycle operators themselves may in general be more prone to alcohol impairment (with the NHTSA reporting alcohol involvement among motorcycle operators in fatal crashes was almost 2.5 times the amount of that for passenger drivers), it is also true that impaired drivers pose a greater threat to those on motorcycles who lack the benefit of seat belts, airbag, a vehicle frame or anything to stop them from striking the pavement.
Furthermore, there is not just a single kind of impairment. They include:
- Alcohol impairment
- Drug impairment
- Medical impairment
Boston motorcycle accident attorneys with The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman know that evidence of impairment can be used to establish a failure to use reasonable care, which is necessary in any negligence claim, as noted in Jury Instruction 3.180. However, violation of a traffic safety law in and of itself isn’t conclusive proof of liability, which is why if you’ve suffered serious injuries, it’s important to have an experienced injury attorney handling your case.Standards for Driver Impairment in Massachusetts
Establishing impairment of the motorcycle operator (if you were the passenger) or the other driver may be key to your negligence claim. To do that, we look to statutory definitions.
MGL ch. 90 section 24. This statute prohibits operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated, either with a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher or while under the influence of intoxicating liquors, marijuana or other narcotics, depressants or stimulants.
Although alcohol impairment is generally straightforward so long as defendant driver meets that per se limit of 0.08 BAC. Proving impairment by other substances, particularly marijuana, is not so simple because there is no scientifically accepted per se limit of intoxication. Because of the way the body processes marijuana, a regular user may have a high concentration of THC (the drug’s active ingredient), yet not be impaired at the time of the collision. For this reason, we must often rely on other circumstantial evidence.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in the 2017 case of first impression, Commonwealth v. Gerhardt, that police officers in marijuana impairment cases can’t testify to the results of field sobriety tests as they do in alcohol cases, lay witnesses can’t offer opinions on whether someone else is high, officers can testify as to observed characteristics (blood shot eyes, drowsiness, lack of coordination), but the officer can’t give an opinion about whether all that collectively means the driver was under the influence of marijuana.
Although this ruling pertained solely to criminal cases, it bears relevance in civil cases, which often rely on evidence gleaned from the criminal matter.Criminal vs. Civil Cases
Motorists who drive while impaired are subject to criminal penalties. However, criminal and civil injury cases are handled through entirely separate processes.
- Criminal case goal: Penalize offenders.
- Civil case goal: Make whole the victims.
However, even a conviction for OWI isn’t conclusive proof of negligence in the civil case. The good news is the standard of proof in Massachusetts civil injury cases (a preponderance of the evidence) is less stringent than for criminal convictions (beyond a reasonable doubt). That means it’s possible a defendant who evades conviction might still be liable for compensating motorcycle accident victims for compensable injury.Defendants in Impaired Driving Motorcycle Accidents
While it’s usually only the impaired driver facing criminal charges, plaintiffs in drunk driving motorcycle accidents may have numerous options for compensation from third-party defendants, including:
- The owner of the vehicle. These claims may be pursued under legal theories of vicarious liability (which assumes a vehicle is a dangerous instrumentality) or negligent entrustment, as evidence by a breach of MGL ch. 90 section 12 ).
- The owner/ operator of a licensed retailer/ alcohol vendor. This would be relevant in cases where damages resulted from an intoxicated customer’s or guest’s negligence or reckless operation of a motor vehicle. Although Massachusetts doesn’t technically have a dram shop law, MGL ch. 138 section 69 prohibits sale or delivery of alcoholic beverage to intoxicated persons, and state courts have held vendors who do so can be held liable in civil lawsuits. In 2007, the Suffolk County Superior Court ruled even a drunk driver may have grounds to pursue a civil injury claim against an alcohol vendor for alleged negligent sale of alcohol when vendor knew or should have known he was under 21 -- in this case a crash rendered victim paraplegic. Questions of comparative negligence could lower damage awards in such cases, but plaintiff need not prove willful, wanton or reckless conduct - only negligence.
- Employer of negligent driver. This can apply in cases when the alleged at-fault driver was acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the crash. This is usually pursued on one of two legal theories: vicarious liability/ respondeat superior (Latin for “let the master answer”) or negligent hiring and retention. Vicarious liability can apply regardless of whether the employer was negligent, so long as the employee was negligent and acting in the course and scope of employment at the time. Negligent hiring/ retention requires proof the employer failed to exercise care in selecting an employee or should have become aware of an employee’s unfitness after hiring and failed to take action – failure(s) that proximately resulted in plaintiff’s injury.
In the event an impaired driver did not have a license or liability insurance, you may have the option of collecting compensation through your own uninsured/ underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage.
An injury attorney in Boston with extensive experience pursuing motorcycle injury claims can help you thoroughly review your case and determine all potential avenues of recovery.Medical Impairment Cases
Beyond the requirement that individuals behind the wheel be sober, they must also be physically and cognitively fit to operate a vehicle.
There are different medical standards for operators of passenger vehicles and motorcycles, and revocation of licenses for failure to meet these standards is overseen by a Medical Advisory Board. These standards include minimum criteria for:
- Visual qualifications;
- Loss of consciousness/ seizure conditions;
- Cardiovascular conditions;
- Respiratory conditions.
Individuals with certain conditions or severity of conditions cannot drive motorcycles or passenger vehicles. An individual who knew or should have known they had a disqualifying medical condition and chose to drive anyway may have this fact used against them in an injury lawsuit.
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